Are you tired of hearing people talk about Generation Y in terms of Generation Why? "Why are so many kids sullen and apathetic?" "Why are test scores falling and dropout rates rising?" "Why do teens harm themselves and others, obsess over social media, and act so 'entitled' all the time?" These are valid questions if we hope to turn things around, culturally. Still, not every teenager fits the "Gen Why" profile. Allow me to introduce a few young heroes of mine.
You won't find many teens more selfless than Terry Miller, a 15-year-old boy who came to the rescue when a propane-fueled explosion set a neighbor's mobile home ablaze. A badly burned, panic-stricken woman stumbled into the yard, pleading for someone to help her children. Terry raced inside not once but three times to find and retrieve her 4-year-old daughter and 9-month-old son. Blinded by intense smoke and heat, he succeeded by honing in on the children's cries.
Then there's Trevor Robinson. While walking through a parking lot, the 17-year-old high school track star noticed a car veering toward him and his friends. He shoved two girls out of the way and took the full impact himself. Trevor survived significant injuries, but his promising track career didn't fare as well. Just days after the accident, he had to miss a big race that was won by Tim Carr. Carr, aware that his winning time was several seconds slower than Trevor's previous best in the same event, visited Trevor in the hospital and graciously gave him the gold medal.
Here's more reassurance that teenagers haven't gone to the dogs. When T.J. Moehler (16) saw a large pit bull attacking a 10-year-old boy, he sprang into action, despite having a broken arm. The vicious animal's jaws were leaving deep wounds in the child's legs and feet when T.J. pulled the dog away, pounding it with his cast. Then it turned on him, biting T.J. and forcing him to seek sanctuary atop a parked car. His arm re-broken, he would need a screw inserted in his wrist. But T.J. considered it a small price to pay to help someone in need.
Elsewhere, a Greyhound bus carrying 38 children careened off the highway when the driver suddenly passed out. Fortunately, 16-year-old Laura Simpson was sitting several seats back. She'd never operated a passenger car, much less a Greyhound, yet Laura grabbed the wheel and straightened it out, managing to rouse the driver enough that he let up on the gas and stopped the vehicle.
And don't forget Michael Evans, age 13. He and 10-year-old pal Dustin were playing behind a palmetto scrub when Michael felt an unmistakable sting in his flesh. The boys had wandered into a rattlesnake pit. Despite having been bitten, Michael immediately hoisted Dustin onto his back and carried him more than 60 feet to safety, suffering three more snakebites along the way. He nearly died during a three-week hospital stay, yet blushes at the term "hero," stating, "To me the heroes are the men who died and tried to save lives in 9/11." Isn't that just like a hero?
Ryan Hreljac's noble act wasn't birthed from a sudden crisis and rush of adrenaline, but there's no telling how many lives he has saved. As a first-grader he learned that millions of Africans lacked clean drinking water, so he created the Ryan's Well Foundation, which is still going strong. Ryan (16) has raised nearly $2 million and dug more than 300 wells in 14 countries. In addition to providing clean drinking water, his foundation works with the locals, emphasizing sanitation, health and hygiene.
We come into contact with teens every day. Most won't make headline-worthy sacrifices or risk their lives to save others, but many are heroes just the same. For telling the truth. For keeping a promise. For deciding that an extra hour of studying beats peeking at a classmate's test, or that sex is a precious gift worth saving for marriage. They're young people of character, and they're all around us. There's a lot of talk about what's wrong with teens these days. I'm grateful for the many young people who show us what's right.
Published February, 2008